Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy
By Steve Anderson
November 1st, 2019

The Dead Don't Die

Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Written by Jim Jarmusch
Starring Bill Murray, Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi
104 mins

Though this one isn't exactly direct to video, the fact that "The Dead Don't Die" pulled down less than $7 million in the US makes it close enough for our bailiwick. This may not be Bill Murray's first foray into zombie-killing mayhem--and the fact that I can say that brings just a little extra joy to my life--but it will be a decent foray all the same.

"The Dead Don't Die" takes us to Centerville, a small town with all the standard small town issues and foibles. Yet this small town is about to be put to the ultimate test--one of sheer survival--as the bodies of the dead are returning to life and attacking the living in grand Night of the Living Dead style. Yet this small town of 738, which seems to have more than its share of ennui going around, may not be, well, properly equipped to take on the shambling hordes.

Brace yourself for a lot of meta--they'll actually reference their own theme song within the first ten minutes--and a lot of strange circumstances, like how a town of 738 has its own juvenile detention center. Also brace yourself for environmentalism messages, including the dangers of "polar fracking", which apparently has the ability to cause changes in the Earth's axial tilt. That's about as unlikely as polar fracking causing Skittles to fall from the sky, but let's just go with it.

There's a little more buildup than I like in my zombie movies here, but there's something so undeniably comfortable about this buildup. This is slice-of-life stuff in a small town, sure as you're born, and watching it--coupled with the growing strangeness of a zombie apocalypse poised in the background--has a wonderful authenticity to it. It also has a wonderful sense of forboding to it. The fact that you won't see any zombies in a zombie movie for almost 30 minutes is nicely undercut by the two facts that, one, you know they're coming, and two, you can actually kind of enjoy the buildup. This is real zombies-in-Mayberry turf, if you take my meaning.

Additionally, the zombies here are bizarre to say the least. They've come back to life with a limited vocabulary, mostly focused around the things they wanted in life. Thus they're commonly left muttering such things as "Wi-Fi", "toys", and "Chardonnay." They also seem to be filled with some kind of black sand, which pours out of their various wounds in a cloud. Explanations for this are limited at best. The eating of flesh is involved, though it seems to be more an afterthought than anything.

All told, this doesn't really line up with any standard zombie mythos, though it seems to be close to the standard Romero model. It's a decent enough zombie movie as zombie movies go, though it spends a lot more time on buildup than I'd like. Sure, the buildup is nice, but I come to a zombie movie for zombies and the attempts the living make to survive them, not slow-burning slice-of-life small-town light comedy with a hefty dollop of foreboding. The two don't blend together, and frankly, there will likely be unpleasant comparisons to "Zombieland," a zombie comedy which really worked by dint of its zombie comedy adding a hefty dollop of hyperkinetic action.

The ending is pretty much that probably shouldn't be in a zombie movie, but is anyway. It will also take the surprisingly standard approach of not ending so much as stopping, which is par for the course. Zombie movies must stop at some point, because you can't show everything that happens in a world that's been fundamentally altered.

Special features include your choice of English, Spanish or French subtitles, your choice of English, French or Spanish audio tracks as well as a Descriptive Video Service track, a featurette about Bill Murray as a zombie hunter, a behind the scenes featurette, a featurette about the cast and crew, and trailers for "Little", "Ma," and "El Chicano."

"The Dead Don't Die" isn't half bad. It's a comfortable zombie movie, and that combination is tough to come by in a field of zombie movies that all look vaguely similar. Sure, it burns a little too slowly for its own good, and has a decided tendency to get weird, but that weird will give it a little extra life and make it one to watch.